Bishop John’s Homily for the Third Sunday of LentMonday 8th March 2021
Each week we will be sharing Bishop John’s homily for each Sunday in Lent.
Third Sunday of Lent
Well there is certainly a lot of challenge in the readings this weekend and we’ve got to be very careful to allow those challenges to touch us. That first reading from the book of Exodus is God speaking to his people and saying if you’re serious about me being your God and you wanting me to be your God and you to be my people, here are some basic principles and rules. We came to know these as the Ten Commandments. This gives direction for action because faith in me can’t just be something that’s intellectual, yes I believe in you God, it has to be with our will, our actions and our intentions. we have to live our faith.
So those ten commandments were a guiding light for those people beginning in those first generations to be a Jewish people, the chosen people of God. But rules and regulations can’t just stay still, the world changes and adaptations need to be made. The thing that went with the Pharisees is that they were very committed to the ten commandments, so committed that if they kept the commandments in every detail they would be righteous before God. They ringfenced those Ten Commandments with so many rules and regulations that it became a nonsense. For a Pharisee in the days of Jesus’ ministry there were about 600 rules and regulations for every day. The Pharisee knew what time you had to get up in the morning, how he had to wash, what he had to wear, how many times a day he had to pray, who he could and couldn’t pray for, how far he could go on what days, what he could eat. So many rules and regulations that it occupied the Pharisees mind so much that he had no opportunity to see when God was saying here’s someone to love, here’s an opportunity for you to show your love for me and your neighbour. No, the Pharisee stuck to his rules. And the Gospels are quite hard on the Pharisees really, because the Pharisees were very sincere, mistaken but sincere, and they believed in rules and that was enough.
But the world changes. We need to be reforming the ways in which we understand and live our faith in God, and that’s demonstrated in that Gospel passage. Jesus turns up in Jerusalem for the Passover and in his time, all Jews within a radius of 15 miles of Jerusalem were obliged to visit the Temple for the Feast of Passover and they were to pay a temple tax. The temple tax had to be paid in temple coinage, which they didn’t usually use, so they had to turn up and exchange money in order to have the money to pay the temple tax. Of course, there was money to be made in commission – in large amounts, and also for the sacrifice of animals. Yes, there was a prescription for what animals could and should be sacrificed but if people brought their own animals they were inspected and told they weren’t good enough, and had to buy one of the animals that we’ve got and that will cost you more money too.
Jesus is showing that actually the whole thing has got outdated and has been abused, and that we don’t need the Temple because Jesus himself is here. We can pray where we want, we can live our faith where we want, we don’t need all of this prescription around attending the Temple.
Now, Pope Francis has said on many occasions that the Church is always in need of reform and that he is showing us the way. We need to look at the Church in different ways and how the Church can make an impact in our world, whether it’s the way we speak about the environment, the way we help those charities that are dealing with human trafficking and modern slavery, and teh way that we live our faith as individuals.
Yes, we can go back to those Ten Commandments and ask ourselves how do I live keeping the Sabbath day holy? Because in our modern society, we’ve rather lost Sunday. When we’re out of lockdown it’s the second biggest retail day of the week. So if we can’t keep Sunday as Sunday, we need to find a way of honouring God one way in the week, giving time to an understanding of what we are and what our faith is. Honour your father and your mother. Well, we hear so much these days about how we disrespect our elders in many countries, we put them in care homes which are badly funded and they are isolated from people. Maybe in the pandemic we are learning something more about the importance of maintaining that link because we are denied it at the moment. We need to look after the elderly as we need to look after the young.
Pope Francis in his book ‘Let Us Dream’, which i highly recommend, says that three generations, Grandparents, parents and children, they have a lot to offer to one another, and we can’t simply discard the elderly or not listen to the young. It’s by combining our experience that we learn so much.
The Season of Lent needs to be a time when we ask ourselves some serious questions. Use the Ten Commandments by all means, but how are we living our faith? Are their changes we need to make personally and in our parishes, and in our dioceses and in our Church that will make the world a better place? So many questions need to be asked as we go through this pandemic as we have a real opportunity for radical change which will make our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world better in so many ways.
God bless you for all that you do, for the faith you have. You have to feed that faith and we feed it with prayer and we ask for God’s grace in what we do so that we can achieve far more than we can imagine.
As always, we ask that the Lord stays with us on our journey.
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